Codename Trellis – Sharon Phillips

Codename Trellis

If it was you: forty-odd, sneered at
for being a spinster, day after day
you care for your mum, your uncle,
your aunt until you can’t breathe
in the two-up two-down terrace

and though you can’t see the bay
from the house, you can hear it,
its restless grey grinding the beach,
its winds that lurch up the streets
and sea frets blocking the sunlight

and at work you’re reliable, careful
how you handle the top-secret plans,
day after day you file them away
and the boss thinks you’re too dim
to know exactly what they are:

if that was your life and someone
offered you money, good money,
and you saw what you’d be able
to do, how you could live — if that
was you, how would you choose?

Sharon lives in Otley, West Yorkshire. Her poems have been published in print and online, most recently in Atrium, Raceme and the Dreich Sci-Fi pamphlet. She is currently working towards a collection inspired by the life and works of the German artist Käthe Kollwitz.

O kila na vanua era soko kina – Anna Milan

O kila na vanua era soko kina

When I was a child, nobody 
mentioned the prim little man wearing tweed
who stood behind my frail, pale grandmother
carefully taking her words
and putting them in their place 
in an old tin the colour of yaqona root.

Grandmother sat in her upright chair
her knotted ivory hands clutching
a faded postcard of women with fragile grass liku
and hibiscus in their hair.

I never understood why the man 
took some words and not others
as he took door and laugh and apple
but left her with governor and daughter 
and o kila na vanua era soko kina?

The old woman seemed mostly not to notice.
Sometimes, though, if the man reached forward
when she offered up her words to me with her lips
she would hold onto them with her teeth
and he would tug until the words snapped away
leaving only crumbs on her tongue.

Everyone’s eyes slid carefully around the man
as he picked Grandma’s words one by one
till all she was left with 
was duty 
and suppress 
and au sega ni kila.

Fijian translations 
Liku = skirts made of fibres
O kila na vanua era soko kina? = Where are they going?
Au sega ni kila = I don’t know

Currently living in Hertfordshire, UK, Anna Milan’s poems have appeared in publications such as Under the Radar, Eye Flash Poetry, Black Bough Poetry and Ink Sweat & Tears. @annamilanwrites

A Spell for Motherhood – Nina Parmenter

A Spell for Motherhood

Take a mountain. Scale the pink-arsed flanks of it,  
limb over limb. Find Poseidon. Extract from him a wave 
and a horse’s hoof. Pluck a tree; kill the grip of it 
by showing it your thoughts. Make your peace with the grave. 
Eat apples, all of them. Taste in them the sin 
of being a woman. Let that smack you in the gut, 
you deserve it. Straddle the equator. Suck up its spin, 
take it with you; feel your body snapping shut. 
Learn to count each breath as an act of sedition. 
Pull the lungs from a sleeping leopard. Be a speck. 
Be a planet. Be a long-dead apparition.  
Stuff a storm into your patch pocket, huge and wet, 
but tell no one. Invent two new ways of sucking  
a heart from a blown glass moon. Find a man. Fuck him.

Nina Parmenter has appeared in journals including Ink, Sweat & Tears, Snakeskin, Light, Better Than Starbucks and The Lyric. She was highly commended in the 2021 Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize, and is a Forward Prize nominee. She lives in Wiltshire. Twitter: @ninaparmenter Facebook: @parmenterpoetry Website: ninaparmenter.com

Invitation to Tea – Dan Blick

Invitation to Tea

The lane is beckoning in the Tuesday sun,
but no one comes.

Toenail clippings curl and yellow,
prose dries, flowers crumble petal by
droopy petal,
poetry does not hit the right vein.

And yet still the sun shines,
the lane beckons,
but no one comes.

Dan is a recent graduate of Cambridge University, who specialised in Islamic Studies, and has worked as a professional actor and writer since graduating. He is moving to New York to study acting in October.

Mistresses – Helen Boden

Mistresses

Brides not so much of Christ
but of the 1944 Butler Act:
those clever girls,
who’d been on a promise
to Girton if they agreed
to take up teaching,
performed acts of education
for the next forty years.
More than content to serve
their calling, they observed
daily rituals of assembly, hourly 
ringing the lesson or dinner bell.
Tolled their obsolescence.

This is my body,
would Miss Jenkinson ever think
as she stood to greet 3B with Salvete?
In the eyes of Cathryn Moore,
with a crush so deep
she nearly stopped eating,
Jenkies was undoing her blouse.

Clare Marshall colluded
with Cathryn’s fantasies.
Together they contrived
Jenkies, in her prime, stepping out
with Mr Hall. Did Miss Greene ever feel
the flip under her ribcage
a buzz inside her underskirt
at the sight of Miss Jenkinson’s
new mint-green polo neck,
or the throat of the layman who gave
the communion wine
at St Saviours on Sundays?

Miss Clarke became Mrs Harris over the holidays.
Clare said Miss Armitage had a gentleman friend.
She’d started wearing lipstick.

When Miss Coates their Head of French
said she stayed over at Jenkie’s
to watch the Young Musician final
because the latter had stereo,
Clare and Cathryn missed the clue
where other girls, the ones like Ruth Charles,
who’d go to the boys’ school barn dance,
had they cared, would have guessed.

Helen Boden is a Yorkshire-born, Edinburgh-based writer, educator and editor. Widely published in poetry magazines and anthologies, her first collection, A Landscape to Figure In, will be published by Red Squirrel Press in 2021

You Wear a T Shirt with the National Rail Emblem on – Wendy Allen

You Wear a T Shirt with the National Rail Emblem on

From Chester to Bangor
the carriages peer down on top
of the wide-eyed sea wall below

you trace your two fingers slow
down the curve of my waist
to hipbone, to the sea underneath

you go down on me
your slated lips taste of waves
I am between blue and breathing.

Wendy Allen came third in The Cheltenham Poetry Festival Transformation competition 2021. She has a Legitimate Snack coming out with Broken Sleep. She is being mentored by Richard Scott and starts her MA in Creative Writing in September.

Featured Publication – After the Riot by Neil Young

Our featured publication for September is After the Riot by Neil Young, published by Nine Pens.

After the Riot’ is both elegaic and defiant. The poems begin by revisiting a Belfast doorway where ‘no-one has kicked the carpet dust in forty years’, then open out to explore themes of migration, displacement, war, legacies of violence and loss but – ultimately – regeneration. They unravel instants, or snapshots, as stories, and are acutely concerned with the struggle for memory, amidst myth-making, as our personal and political histories collide.

Neil Young recalls themes with which, you’d hope, our children will find it difficult to connect: war, sectarianism, poverty. I’ve always thought the job of a poet wasn’t to secure sales, workshops or honours but to memorialise their people. Young tells the story of his people frankly, brutally even, but with grace, skill and humanity – love, in fact.” Hugh McMillan.

A socialist poet par excellence. His poems have that rare and authentic quality of the best of folk music” Brian Patten.

Dust

In time…… they all stopped here,
those folk we called our family or made-up clan,
from half-a-half-cousins to uncles of aunts,
sailors and navvies with oversized yarns,
women in floral 60s skirts and head-scarves
who got their bags from the market stalls.
They wiped their feet on the front-door mat,
all their histories passed that spot
then filtered through to the living-room fire
and kitchen thick with tea and talk.
This was my mother’s refuge from Orangedom,
she carried her Dickens hardbacks from Yorkshire to Belfast
as if their touch might be her last thread to a civilised world.
My father – once the latchkey kid – stood on the landing
in dripping overalls when I was born
halfway through his evening shift.
He’d ran three miles in a deluge, swerving cars and buses
from the gasworks to Ballyscillan’s new estate.
Granny Lizzie arrived with a cough that stuck
like knotted rope to her lungs from 1920s TB;
my grandad like a stray dog with his whisky eyes;
his own father in final years, tramping brogues on twisted legs
that once had moved loose-knee across the Somme.
These men who tripped from war to civil war and back –
they palmed their curses onto their daughters and sons.
Here as well the priest-afflicted neighbours sang at new year,
my mother slipped them cake and clothes
in hushed insistence at the door, my brothers
larked with me in Liverpool shirts for our first Kodacolour snap.
And then, as fleet as shadows, they were gone
though they brought all this land’s fierce history to a single spot:
half myth, half real, troublesome and warm,
too proud and fast to grievance, garrulous and thrawn,
god-drunk and heathen, intoxicating with their strange lyric tongue.
I hold them bitter-sweet as a song I did not know I’d memorised
though forty years have passed since anyone kicked the carpet dust
and I am all of that house that now is left.

After the Riot

The teapot still touch-warm from hours before,
slops of leaves in cups and tumblers whisky-wet
where I now wiped my finger, tasted life, that heated life 
that hurried in for refuge through the door.
Ashtrays packed, some butts half-smoked
and cirrus of last night’s smoke where loud hushed talk
was not supposed to stir the little ones upstairs.
Black-stained clothes lay dumped on a chair,
their smell stretched from the front room to back gate
where others had slipped homewards after dark.
While adults slept, I took their empty space
as if enacting my small part in a wordless pact:
I washed the cups and glasses, emptied butts 
and threw the bloodied tissues in the grate.

To the Young Woman Who Wrote Her Number on My Left Thigh on the Nightclub
Stairs in Cushendall, September 1994

If I hadn’t been so hasty to take a shower
I’d’ve called, you would have been in,
I’d’ve have caught the train to Dublin
the next weekend,
we’d have met under Clerys Clock,
you’d have mistaken me briefly
for someone exotic,
introduced me to your five brothers as a friend
you were showing round town.
We’d have inter-railed
and slept on beer-sticky floors,
you’d have fled your horrified parents
so we could share a flat in Camden.
By now we’d have our own
fridge magnet collection,
hate each other,
you’d be blaming me
for the baby out of marriage
that heaped eternal shame
on your god-fearing folks back home,
we’d be getting divorced,
feuding over money and the kid.
Or by some unlikely fluke of luck
one of us might be well-paid,
we’d be making an annual pilgrimage
to Cushdendall
where we’ll get pissed in Johnnie-Joe’s,
you’d make a ritual
of writing on my inner thigh –
or someone else’s thigh,
a young feller’s who skipped the shower
and took the train to Dublin.
I’ll catch you on the rebound.

Grosvenor Square

There was this feller, a dad he was.
Don’t ask me why he was there
but not to protest against war, I’m guessing,
unless a sleeping bairn in a pram was his covert weapon,
because just as the riot broke out and people
were scattering, charging, surging, trampling everywhere
and smoke bombs thickened, flames were rising
and up on the wall of the US embassy three masked
demonstrators were strutting, burning the Stars and Stripes
to the roar and salutes of the crowd, and just
as we could hear the first incoming clatter of hooves
he was right in front of me, lifting the pram.
And me and two women without any prompting
grabbed an end each and hoisted the wean
– still sleeping through the whole shebang –
onto the pavement beside the side-street
and then the dad was shouting, stranded,
so all of us lifted him, he was crowd-surfed
to the edge of the riot, and smiling, laughing, thanking us
as he was planted down with his child, then hurrying off
from the scene. And that was the instant I hunched down low
just in time to miss the shattering glass from the pub windows
and the Robocops as they zig-zagged on the street
and swiped through bodies and smoke;
and it makes me wonder, these many years later,
why it was so easy to lift a small child
backwards in a pram through a riot
when millions, millions of us, couldn’t stop a war.

Neil Young hails from west Belfast (1964 batch) and now lives in north-east Scotland. He worked as a labourer, kitchen porter and stage-hand before becoming a journalist and going on to report from New York post 9/11 to the Gaza Strip. Neil’s publications include Lagan Voices (Scryfa, 2011), The Parting Glass – Fourteen Sonnets (Tapsalteerie, 2016), Jimmy
Cagney’s Long-Lost Kid Half-Brother (Black Light Engine Room, 2017), and Shrapnel (Poetry Salzburg, 2019). A new pamphlet, After the Riot, is forthcoming (Nine Pens, ninepens.co.uk). Neil co-founded The Poets’ Republic magazine and Drunk Muse Press.

After the Riot is available to purchase from the Nine Pens website.

We eat oranges and talk about the nature of truth – Jan Harris

We eat oranges and talk about the nature of truth

I tell you that the orange has the perfect name,
an O to show its shape,
the zing of colour when you think the word.

But you – ever the entomologist – remind me,
if you could see through a honeybee’s eyes
it would look yellowy-green.

You score the zest with a knife –
release the citrus scent of Christmas,
satsumas tucked in stocking toes.

You’re so… traditional, you say, laughing.
I wonder if you’re thinking, old-fashioned,
predictable
, maybe even boring.

To you, it smells of our holiday in Seville,
orange blossom in every street and square.
How we swept home at dawn, petals in our hair.

You cup the orange in your palm,
separate each segment tenderly
as lips might open for a kiss.

I slice my fruit in half and find a sunburst inside,
the radiance of your smile,
a wheel speeding away with us.

Jan Harris’s poems have appeared in various places including Acumen, Envoi, and Poetry Wales. Jan was placed third in the Wales Poetry Award, 2019. Her first collection, Mute Swans on the Cam, was published by Oversteps Books in July 2020.

Walking with Mary Shelley 3. – Louise Warren

Walking with Mary Shelley
3.

Mary is stitched into the middle of me-
as she was stitched into my mother
pulling the pieces of us together pinch tight
we try to squeeze to death the quiet version of ourselves.

Blue silk, forget-me-not, chiffon sky
we unpick her with our nails
as we worry, we fret, we unravel her
with our magenta, our hollyhock, our fogs.

Our deep depressions, our electric storms,
our blackest ink. Mary says-
we are not all content to lie between others,
I am narrative, scrawled in graphite,

little matted furs.
Wetness, hair, birth blood, breast milk,
life, death, silver clasped.
Mary.

.

Louise Warren’s first collection ‘A Child’s Last Picture Book of the Zoo’ won the Cinnamon Press Debut Prize (2012). ‘In the scullery with John Keats’ also published by Cinnamon Press  (2016.) Her latest pamphlet ‘John Dust’  published by V.Press in 2019.

Spirit guide in the bar – Ramona Herdman

Spirit guide in the bar

Watch the drunk the other side of this drink.
She’s the you you’d be if you drank it.
The you you’ve been before. That your dad was.
The you your children would be
if you thou’d them into existence.

She’s smiling at you. She thinks you look
pretty hot, pretty important,
pretty witty, pretty good fun, exactly
the sort of woman who should put down
her book right now and saunter across the bar

with a devastating pick-up line
and a half-conscious back-up line
in the back of her head, to cancel
tomorrow’s inconsequential commitments.

Ramona Herdman’s latest pamphlet, ‘A warm and snouting thing’, is published by The Emma Press. Her previous pamphlet, ‘Bottle’ (HappenStance Press), was a PBS Pamphlet Choice. Ramona lives in Norwich and is a committee member for Café Writers.